A Dash of Scandal(11)

“Well, I didn’t realize I’d been here that long, but perhaps I have.”

“Sounds to me like you have been woolgathering.”

Fines knew him too well, and Chandler wasn’t sure he was as pleased about that as he once was. “Don’t make me sound as if I’m in my dotage.”

“A year ago, I would have found you gambling at a table, not sitting drinking here by yourself.”

“I was merely relaxing with my brandy. So tell me, where have you been while I’ve been patiently waiting?”

“Impatiently is more like it, ol’ chap. Don’t try to fool me. I know you too well.” He cleared his throat and sniffed. “I just came from Anne’s. Sorry to keep you, but I was in the mood and didn’t want to lose it, you know.”

Chandler felt a twinge of envy. He hadn’t felt in the mood to see his mistress lately, which was why he had dismissed her with a considerable sum not more than a month ago. In years past he would have been into another relationship before the day ended, but he was restless and felt he was looking for something more or different.

“So tell me, was there a jewel you danced with this evening who put you in a strain to see Anne?”

“All of them.” He laughed. “You know how I love beautiful ladies, and I would take every one of them to my bed if I could.”

“You love all women, Fines, not just the beautiful ones.”

“True. I rather like changing my affections from one lady to another: It would be positively tiresome to settle on one, don’t you think?”

Tiresome to settle on one lady? Chandler used to think so, too, but now he planned to do just that after he apprehended the thief.

“Hmm. It’s not something you are trying to accomplish, is it?”

“Damn, no, Dunraven. Don’t startle me this early in the morning. I’m not up to it. Me make a match?” He shook his head. “The devil take me if I do.” Fines picked up the bottle of brandy and poured a generous amount into the glass that had been set before him.

Chandler laughed. “Nothing would please me more than seeing a young lady sweep your legs right out from under you and land you prone at her feet.”

Fines grimaced. “What a horrible thought. I’d just as soon grovel at the king’s feet. No doubt Andrew put such a foolish notion in your head. Just yesterday he said to me that one of us should start acting respectable before Society gives up on us and no longer seeks us out for their daughters. Can you believe such poppycock?”

“He mentioned something similar to me, but I doubt that will happen.”

“So true.” Fines sipped his drink. “It’s a damn good thing titles and money wash away a lot of past bad deeds. No doubt, the young ladies will be standing in line with their dowries ready when we give the signal.”

Realizing he wasn’t up to Fines’s line of banter tonight, Chandler drained his glass. “I think I’m going to give up the night.”

“I just got here,” his friend complained. “And where is Andrew, the devil?”

“No doubt he has given up the night as well. As you said, it’s almost dawn.”

“You’re still depressed about the missing raven, I gather.”

Chandler forced his face not to betray him with anger or frustration. “Not so much,” he lied.


Leave it to Fines to press the matter. “I feel sure I’ll find the man who is stealing sooner or later.”

“Yes, but later could very well be too late for you. It’s rather easy to melt down gold into an unrecognizable shape, isn’t it? And then the raven would be gone forever.”

Chandler gritted his teeth before saying, “How nice of you to remind me of that.”

“Facts are facts, Dunraven, and can’t be denied.” He drank from his glass rather than sip and savor the fine brandy. “Actually, it might already have been done.”

“You really know how to lift a man’s spirits.”

“There is one good thing. It’s not a piece that could be easily sold to a trader or collector. Too recognizable.”

“That’s true.”

“They’d have to melt it.”

“Damnation, Fines, enough of it.”

“I just don’t want you having false hopes.”

“Certainly no chance of that with you around.”

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